Tuesday, July 20, 2010


"Live ignorance rots us worse than any grave" — Philip Whelan [woops, I meant Whalen] from the poem: "For C."

I always dug that quote from the too little known now Philip Whelan since I first read it half a century ago.

It seems even more appropriate now.

I recently read about "The Dunning-Kruger effect" in the July 5th New Yorker. It's about how "people who don't know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, and so fail to seek better information."

It cites studies where people are sure they got answers correct but didn't, etc.

It's like our whole society, and too many in the rest of the world, are suffering from it.

Like in recent polls that show a vast majority of our fellow citizens think it was President Obama who bailed out the banks with the TARP funds, when it was the previous administration that came up with and executed that plan.

And a majority think Obama has raised taxes when his administration (with a majority Democratic Congress) actually lowered taxes for most of us, especially working people and the non-wealthiest among us.

It's not just a case of the influence of rightwing Republicans on the media, which is obviously extensive (see today's brouhaha over an administration member from the Department of Agriculture being canned in response to a rightwing internet attack on her and the NAACP because of a speech she made to that group in which an excerpt was taken out of context to show she's "racist" even though in context she was talking about coming to terms with the reality that, to paraphrase her, it's not about black and white, it's about rich and poor, whereas she had previously thought it was the former, being an older African-American woman who grew up in the South during segregation).

Nor is it simply that the education system has failed to keep up with the world as it is and instead is struggling to incorporate a corporate mentality into a centuries-old approach to learning when neither is adequate to the challenges we face to actual considered thinking, i.e. logic and reasoning etc.

It's more like some movie satire (several of which have been made in recent years) about the elevation of ignorance to not just acceptance but an honored place in the national dialogue about what's needed to solve some of this country's most pressing problems.

The idea that somehow allowing a building two blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan that will accommodate Islamic prayer as well as interfaith activities etc. is somehow a threat to the country that enshrined religious freedom in its Constitution and that those who are objecting the most claim to be the lone defenders of that Constitution is just one so obvious and sad example of the level of discourse now being carried on in the media and obviously in people's minds.

The subtle and the nuanced are too difficult for too many of our fellow citizens now who need the "black and white" simplicity of received but incomplete or incorrect "knowledge" to satisfy their own sense of knowing things they obviously haven't a clue about.

[PS: Thanks to my son Miles for pointing me to this recent Paul Krugman summation of another example of seemingly willful ignorance at play in our national dialogue about the economy.]

[PPS: Thanks to Butch who suggested a link to an article (see comments) that led me to this link that almost breaks your heart (as did her whole speech which I listened to this morning and was moved and touched by her courage and insight and willingness to change her youthful attitudes anout race despite the fact her father was murdered by white racists!)]


Butch in Waukegan said...

Obama’s* and his administration’s response to the Shirley Sherrod controversy reinforces live ignorance, and is just another example of the Democrat’s deference to the right wing.

Obama could have, and should have, defended Sherrod. It was a perfect “teachable moment”, tailor-made for a president to combat ignorance. For instance, one little-reported fact is that Ms. Sherrod’s father was killed in Alabama by a man alleged to be in the KKK. The murderer was never prosecuted.

Instead of defending her Obama caved, and caved quickly. Just who do Obama and the Democrats think their base is? Too much has happened to believe that they really care about the people who voted them into office.

Another shameful propaganda ploy from Fox and the right wing, but the real shame is on those who have the power to fight them but refuse.

* In anticipation of “if only the czar knew” defense: Vilsack, who did the actual firing, is a plugged-in political appointee. There is zero chance that Vilsack didn’t discuss this Rham Emmanuel before dropping the ax.

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

You hit the nail on the head, Michael and Butch, if what you say is true, this is sad, and I hope our president can reclaim his cajones, for all of our sakes.

JIm said...

The story of Shirley is not that she was guilty of racisim and then came to redemption. It is while she spouted racism, she was cheered by the NAACP members during her speech. The NACCP and the Democrat party shouts racism at the Tea Pary, of which I am a member, without proof. When Breitbart offers $100,000 for proof of racial slurs during Nancy and black congressmens walk to the capital none is offered, even in this day of instant cameras and recording devices. Racial slurs and calling people you disagree with politcally, liars is prima facie evidence that the facts are not on your side. The great question of the day, is where are the jobs? In most previous recessions, jobs rebounded relatively quickly once the recession is over. This was true in 1921-22, 1981-82, 1990s, 2002,2003 when governments encouraged or at least did not put obstacles to business expansion. It did not happen in the 1930s and in this Great Recession when the government went to war on business and trade.

As far as Obama caving, that is not new. Just ask Putin, Ahmadinajad, Kim Jung Il.

As for Obama's feelings on race just look at: his remarks on his white grandmother, the white Cambridge policeman, the dropping of voter intimidation by the black panther party, support for the crimminal ACORN organization, Rev. Wright et endlessly et cetera(sp).

Butch in Waukegan said...

The heroism of Shirley Sherrod

Lally said...

Thanx for that link Butch. I added one of the links it led me to in a PPS above.

Butch in Waukegan said...

As they retreat the right wing revised their emphasis: It's not about Sherrod, it's about the NAACP cheering racism. This excuse is refuted by, can you believe, Rich Lowrey of the right wing National Review.

JIm said...

Mosque at the World Trade Center

Islam has a long history of building on previous religious sites of conquered nations. This occurred in Constantinople and in Spain in Cordoba for which the group financing the 911 mosque is named. There are at least suspicions that the money is Saudi, which supports the substitution of Sharia law world wide. The Constitution could obviously not stand if Sharia law was the law of the land. Comments have been made for the building on religious freedom grounds. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact”
Many liberals are sympathetic to Islamic antipathy to US freedoms. I suspect there would be few tears on this site if the government closed down Rush, Fox and most lately Breitbart. I belief that support for Islamic ideals and hatred of the right’s support for US Constitutional law and particularly the Amendments including the 10th, fuels this animosity. I can only wish that Andrew Cuomo continues to support the mosque and Lazio continues to oppose. Maybe a Conservative miracle can happen in even NY.

PS Butch, If Lowery has a different opinion, great. There should be room for diverse ideas out in the market place of ideas.

Anonymous said...


and he is far from being an "unknown"

the taxes on my electric bill
the taxes on my phone bill
the inflated price of food, clothing,housing and etcs SURE AS HELL are TAX HIKES!

Obama is just another fibbing politician!

an empty-suit with 3 months experience sitting in the back of the Senate..

a nice guy and smart... just what WE needed... another fantasy!

AlamedaTom said...

Great post. "Willful ignorance" is more than appropriate. Let me add another recommendation: "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free" by Charles P. Pierce. You can actually read surprisingly large excerpts from it at http://bit.ly/dxYtZA

Not only is Piece right on, but he is also hilarious.

~ Willy

Lally said...

Thanks Tom for that link. As for anonymous (brave little person) I can use my brain surgery for the Whalen misspelling, which I can also admit to and correct, but I doubt you or other Obama bashers will do the same no matter how much proof is presented. Obama and the Dems put through "the biggest tax cut in U.S. history" and that's only a small fraction of what he's already accomplished and which even so-called "liberals" don't get because the rightwing political mob is so good at yelling fire when they don't like the movie we're seeing. God bless the USA and the Constitution and those of us who have read it and understand it and see through the rightwing propaganda and lies.

Butch in Waukegan said...

When my friends and family voted for Obama, they were voting for someone they thought would stand up to the right wing. After an 8 year reign of Bush and the Republicans, here was someone, finally, who would fight for what they believed in. My skepticism was barely tolerated.

The key aspect of the Sherrod incident is not that the right wing manufactured a phony story, designed to appeal to white racism. This is what they do. Obama was elected because he presented himself as someone who had the audacity to stand up to them, to call them out, to end the reign of madness.

The important part of the Sherrod story is that Obama and his administration instantly responded to a video posted on an ultra right web site with a history of manufacturing evidence. And when I say instantly, the Sherrod video surfaced Monday morning and by Monday night she was gone.

This is not the only instance of the Obama administration implementing the Republican playbook. For instance, the Justice Department, in just about every case, has continued and enhanced Bush’s anti-civil liberties policies. And of course war and empire building continue as before.

All this is generally acknowledged by people who are paying attention, and yet many are reluctant to even name one issue they oppose Obama on. Why? Because, in the great Zoroastrian struggle of good and evil, even whiff of criticism from his supporters will help the evil Republicans win. So, even though the Republican base demands that their party represent them, good Democrats dare not criticize their leader. There are no consequences for Democratic politicians that cross their base — the only standard is that they are not Republicans.

The hamster wheel of electoral politics keeps spinning, and the Sherrod story is merely another example of right wing propaganda.

(It should be a little embarrassing to reference the Constitution in support of Obama, a man who has signed orders to assassinate US citizens, something Bush couldn’t have gotten away with. But I guess with him being a Constitutional scholar and all, it’s OK.)

Lally said...
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Lally said...

You make some good points Butch, but you also make some bad general ones that do exactly what you complain about. If you think the Justice department under Obama is the same as under Bush you are either willfully doing exactly what you accuse us Obama supporters of doing or are as ill informed as the rightwingers, which you obviously are not. So think a minute. Have you any idea how the civil rights wing of the JD was operating for the previous eight years? Almost all decisions were based on what was best for corporate America and almost none on the actual civil rights laws etc. That has been almost totally reversed. Yes, this administration has been a disappointment when it comes to "Homeland Security" but you cannot deny that it released many prisoners being held illegally at Gitmo and let others go to trial that weren't headed there under Bush Jr's policies. And it would seem you haven't been reading this blog if you think there has been no instance by me or others on it who support Obama of our criticizing him. I have made clear many many times that there are many issues I would like to see handled differently, from ending both wars and closing bases around the world and reducing the military budget etc. etc. etc. to more aggressively responding to the right etc. etc. BUT, I have been in the position, on a much much lower level, of fighting for my ideals to be realized against great odds and losing over and over again as well as winning a few, and also in the position of being part of the pressure to change things drastically and more quickly (Civil Rights, Viet War, Nuclear Disarmament, Feminism, Gay Rights, etc. etc.) where I have made decisions or contributed to them, that led to peoples' deaths, innocent people. It changed my perspective FOREVER. No matter how righteous the cause, that kind of decision making even at the lowest common denominator level is easy to criticize but much more difficult to live with the consequences of. Look at Obama closely. He has, as almost all presidents do, already aged many years in the short time he has had the ultimate responsibility for not just one or two lives but thousands and hundreds of thousands. I believe he is making these decisions based on good intentions, and some good and some not good advice and intelligence, and on reality not idealism that cannot be turned into instant policy. I would love the drone attacks to cease, as I would love to have the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo (which took more lives than the two attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) all stopped, but I am also happy my brother who was in the Pacific didn't have to be part of the invasion of Japan and lived to see his kids grow up etc. Life isn't perfect, its good and bad, as is each day, and we either learn to work with what we're given or we work to change it while understanding the outcome won't be perfect. Obama isn't perfect.

Lally said...

I think he should fire some of his advisors, a lot of them actually, and make some other changes, and my guess is he will after the elections. I wish he would end all the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan but even if he could stop all drone attacks and remove all the troops there the killing would go on, maybe even escalate, and people would still suffer, especially women. Were you alive when we withdrew all our troops from Viet Nam Butch? How'd that go? Obama, I believe, is doing a pretty good job with what he inherited. I disagree with some of his decisions, but I don't have the information he has nor am I carrying the weight of those decisions as he is. Jimmy Carter made many decisions to my liking during his first year and a half in office as far as foreign policy and military policy go, and the right made mincemeat of him. Clinton had the luxury of easier circumstances, but also made some decisions (the attempt to change the anti-gay policy in the military for instance) that led to the right winning back Congress, leading to many of the problems we now face etc. No one I know who supports Obama doesn't have criticisms of him and of some of his decisions and team (I wish he'd fire Emmanuel, but he may be partly responsible for Obama getting some much legislation passed, and yes it's compromised legislation when compared to the ideal, but when compared TO WHAT ANY OTHER PRESIDENT IN MY LIFETIME WAS ABLE TO ACTUALLY GET DONE ON THE SAME ISSUES IT IS NOTHING SHORT OF MIRACULOUS etc.)

JIm said...

You, oh so easily, throw around accusations,but very rarley site how conservatives who support the Founding Documents as written and amended are so ill informed. An occasional specific would be novel and,who knows, may even support your case.

"or are as ill informed as the rightwingers, which you obviously are not."

Butch in Waukegan said...

As expected, I disagree with your defense of Obama’s Justice Department and civil liberties record, and believe there are mountains of evidence showing Obama’s continuation of Bush policies. A few examples: Obama’s adoption of Bush’s view of presidential power, moving Gitmo to Bagram, and (beyond Bush) presidential authorizing assassignation of US citizens. I suspect you will find these example unconvincing. Our differences are pretty well laid out and I don’t intend to comment any more after I make the following point.

Where I think you really go off the rails in your above response is your tepid criticism / support (hard to tell which) of US foreign policy in general and US wars in particular.

Yes, I was alive when the last helicopter took off from the embassy roof in Saigon. It was the end of struggle by the Vietnamese people that began when Ho Chi Ming, seeking an end to French rule, was rebuffed by Woodrow Wilson in the 1920s. The US finally giving up in Vietnam was a good thing, for the Vietnamese and for citizens of the US.

Invoking the plight of women in Afghanistan, as did Laura Bush, is just plain silly. How are the women of Iraq doing after our invasion? US foreign policy is not determined, and has never been determined, by what is best for women or children.

Global hegemony, military and economic, drives US foreign policy. The only humane, rational position is for the US to completely withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not Obama’s agenda.

Lally said...

This is my last comment on this thread as well Butch, but your citing of Viet history doesn't change the reality on the ground of the repercussions from a too sudden and ill-planned withdrawal of "all our troops" from Nam. Obama has already withdrawn troops in Iraq to a level well below where they were when Bush bowed out, and he has already begun lowering the troops in Afghanistan since he raised them in response to the military's demands, calling their bluff in order to be able to remove them all, I believe. No it is not being done instantly (which is logistically impossible anyway) as you and I would like to see happen, but again you are talking about ideals based not on realities that can be achieved without greater losses. What you call my and others' "tepid" criticisms of Obama is based on our reasoning that leftist ideals remain unattainable if they are not combined with the pragmatism of attainable political and policy achievements. Obama seems to understand this very well. Probably from his days as a community organizer. because if you were out there trying to change realities into your ideals, as I have been for most of my adult life, you have to accept the limitations of practical realities on accomplishing everything you;d like to. I ran for sheriff on the Peace and Freedom ticket in 1968 with one of my idealistic running points being the disarming of the sheriff and his deputies! How silly. I didn't expect to win with that in my platform, but I was making a point about "peace and freedom" and also about the imbalance of weaponry in that place and time. I actually got a higher portion of votes than anyone expected. Now I believe I may have even won had I taken a more pragmatic approach and even run on the Democratic ticket. Did the Peace and Freedom party's ideals influence some people and events, surely. Did the failure to actually take office and thereby bring about some real change strengthen the right, absolutely. Just as it did when Carter stuck to his ideals over political practicalities and lost to Reagan which made possible Bush Jr.s emergence as the nemesis of the left etc.